Shift is the band’s sixth studio album; how has the band’s music and sound changed over the years?
It’s been a gradual change. It’s hard to notice it while it’s happening, but listening back I can hear it. Like lots of bands, you can really hear our influences coming through on the first couple albums. Then, a few albums in, we started to really find our musical identities and sound like ourselves. Travis’ songwriting has developed over the years, and we’ve gotten better as players. On the last couple records--Soundmind and Shift--I feel like Travis has gotten into some new and different areas as a songwriter, and that’s also pulled new things out of us as players.

Also, we’ve gotten better at MAKING records over the years, in terms of production. I think Shift is the best-sounding record we’ve made.

Who were some of your earliest musical influences?
Right from the start for me it was Rush and Van Halen, which is an interesting yin and yang. I like how completely thought-out Neil Peart's playing is, and how completely instinctual Alex Van Halen's playing seems, and yet they're equally valid.

The other main early influence was Tower Of Power. David Garibaldi is probably my single biggest drum hero of all time. I can literally remember the moment I first heard Back To Oakland. It instantly made me wonder why we all play the same drum beats all the time.

Who are some of your later musical influences?
Later, I got into all of the jazz fusion guys, like Dave Weckl, Dennis Chambers, Steve Smith, Gregg Bissonette, Horatio Hernandez, Simon Phillips… For years I felt that that was my direction as a player, but at some point I realized that I'm a rock n' roller at heart. That’s when I started getting into all of the instrumental guitarists like Vai, Morse, and Satriani. You still get all of the playing, but it rocks. Rod Morgenstein is my main guy in that arena; no matter how complicated the music is, he always makes it FEEL great. I have a million musical heroes, but these are the people who have actually influenced my playing.

There are lots of other drummers whose playing I love, but who haven’t shaped my playing as much, so I don’t quite think of them as “influences”…maybe more like “inspirations:” Vinnie Colaiuta, Tony Williams, John Bonham, Earl Palmer, Elvin Jones…it’s a long list.

What music is queued up in your iPod right now?
Rush, Clockwork Angels.

What are you reading?
I’m juggling a few books: Far and Away, the Neil Peart book; a random cheesy action novel; and The Elegant Universe, by Brian Greene… Some touring accounts, some pulp, and some string theory.

Other media?
I listen to lots of podcasts. I spend a lot of time commuting on a bike, and long-form interviews pass the time. It started when a former TLB roadie got me into Adam Carolla’s podcast, and then I got into Joe Rogan, Jay Mohr, Aisha Tyler, Marc Maron, Alison Rosen… lots of good ones out there. For non-interview stuff, I like Freakonomics Radio, This American Life, and Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History. Like I said, I spend a lot of hours on the bike…

What's your current drum setup?
I play maple Gretsch drums: a 20x22 kick with five toms (down from six!)-- 10 and 12 rack toms, 14 and 16 floor toms, and a suspended 14 on my left. I change snares depending on the volume of the gig. My main snare is a Pearl Masters mahogany 5 1/2x14, but sometimes I’ll use a 6 1/2x14 Pearl Sensitone; either aluminum or steel, depending on the gig.

I play Sabian cymbals. I have four crashes that vary depending on the venue--either AAX Studios or HHXplosions. Having several keeps things from sounding too repetitive when there are lots of accents to hit. It also keeps me from overplaying a single cymbal and breaking it. I have a Hand-Hammered Medium-Heavy Ride, and two O-Zone crashes, which are some of the greatest sounding cymbals I've ever heard. I vary my Hi-hats depending on the gig, but they're always 13’s for the primary hats, and 14’s for the X-hats.

When we do in-store clinic appearances or radio shows, I’ll sometimes use a full kit of electronic drums.

Also, no matter what kit I’m using, I use a Roland SPD-SX sampling pad to my left above the hi-hats. I can trigger drum sounds directly from it, or I can trigger rhythm guitar loops or piano loops that we couldn’t otherwise cover live without more people. That strategy allows us to sound extremely full on stage even though we’re a trio… it’s basically the Rush approach.

I use a Boss metronome as a time/tempo reference, and I have a small mixer that I use to tie it all together and monitor the other band members.

I use Electro-Voice microphones on everything. They absolutely rock, and have held up great on the road.

You have a third pedal on your left side next to your hi-hat and left kick pedal. What's that about?
That's primarily a soloing device; it’s a Rhythm Tech Ribbon Crasher mounted on a Gajate bracket. I use the sound in the same way I would use a snare, or sometimes a clave. It allows me to set up a fairly complete groove with my feet, which I can then solo over with my hands.

What’s your approach to drum solos?
I changed things up for the last tour, and started soloing within the framework of a song, instead of by myself. My bandmates hold down a vamp and I can basically go nuts. It’s fun because I can be more spontaneous and take more chances. I can play what I feel on that night, and if I have a moment of hesitation, or if an idea doesn’t pan out, it doesn’t tank the whole solo. I like pushing and pulling against the groove being played and creating tons of rhythmic tension. It’s one of my favorite things about listening to guys like Dave Weckl and Dennis Chambers.

Having said that, on this tour I plan to get the “open” solo worked back into shape, so it’s ready to go for certain types of shows. For this kind of solo, where I’m the only one playing, I always plan out a rough structure; I don’t like leaving too much to chance when there’s nobody to lean on. I use lots of ostinatos in these solos, and the idea is to create that feel of accompaniment, but by myself. I’ll play a repeating phrase with a couple of limbs, then solo over that with my remaining limbs. This way, the listeners have a nice, accessible groove to latch onto if they don’t care about the other stuff I’m doing. I’ll also use lots of polyrhythms, which allows me to create that push and pull that I like to hear.

I do think there has to be a circus element to these kinds of “open” solos. It’s an unmistakably physical instrument, and I think (hope) people appreciate the stamina, power, and coordination involved, and I try to push myself on every level. I don’t like finishing and feeling like I could have given more.

Who are your influences as soloists?
All of the fusion guys I mentioned earlier are great at soloing within songs.

For open solos, I’d say the two big ones are Neil Peart and Terry Bozzio. They both take a structured, compositional approach, then improvise within that framework. And Bozzio has elevated the ostinato thing to a whole new level; his name is practically synonymous with it.

Has your creative approach changed over the years, either live or in the studio?
My approach to live performance has changed a little. I used to try really hard to re-create every note of the album performance when playing live, and nowadays I don’t sweat the details quite as much. I still try to be faithful to the album parts, but as a drummer, you have to be ready to play whatever drums you’re presented with when you’re on the road, and the kit du jour might be WAY different than what you used on the album. So over the years, I’ve shifted away from playing specific, memorized drum PARTS, and more toward organically playing the SONGS in whatever way makes sense on a given kit. It was a little strange at first, but now I’m less weirded out by all the different scenarios that I’m faced with.

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